House and Senate leaders are outlining an ambitious plan to send to the president as many as nine of the annual spending bills before Oct. 1, including a spending package funding programs within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for fiscal year (FY) 2019.
The House Sept. 4 voted to proceed to conference negotiations on a “minibus” package (H.R. 6157) including both the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill and the Defense spending bill, opting to bypass full House consideration of the Labor-HHS bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee July 11 [see Washington Highlights, July 13]. The Senate had approved its version of the two spending bills as a package Aug. 23 with strong bipartisan margins [see Washington Highlights, Aug. 24].
Lawmakers reportedly have been “pre-conferencing” components of the measure even before formal negotiations commence. Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) indicated to reporters that the committees had reached agreement on the overall funding level for the package, and House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) noted that the compromise package would use the overall Senate funding level of $179.3 billion for Labor-HHS, which exceeds the House committee-passed bill by over $2 billion.
Lawmakers also have been suggesting that the conference committee would strive to avoid contentious policy riders that could potentially stall the measure. Senate appropriators have abided by a commitment to avoid partisan “poison pills” in the spending bills the chamber has considered up to this point, enabling them to make greater progress in moving the bills forward than has been possible in recent years.
House conservatives, however, have expressed concerns over the Senate-passed spending bill, though they also have acknowledged that the policy provisions they would like to see included would be unlikely to garner enough support in the Senate.
In addition to the combined Defense and Labor-HHS bill, lawmakers are in the process of conferencing two other “minibus” spending packages, including one funding the Department of Veterans Affairs (see related story). Legislators will need to draft a continuing resolution to fund any remaining spending bills to avoid a government shutdown.
Whether the president signs a stopgap or any of the spending packages remains an open question, given that none of the bills currently under consideration address funding for the president’s border wall. House conferees on the Labor-HHS spending bill include: Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), Kay Granger (R-Texas), Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Steve Womack (R-Ark.), Martha Roby (R-Ala.), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y), Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.). Senate conferees on the Labor-HHS spending bill include: Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).